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NEWS: Environmental commissioner says sewage threatens the Great Lakes

The Toronto Star reports that, “Great Lakes pollution is getting worse because sewage systems are outdated… warns (Ontario’s) Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller (in his 228-page annual report).”

“It’s been 27 years since the province tightened cleanliness standards for sewage treatment plants emptying waste water into the Great Lakes — a major problem because of the fast-growing population in southern Ontario. ‘We have the technology to treat the sewage to very low concentrations,’ Miller said, noting the Americans have done a better job through their Clean Water Act and have cleaner beaches and shorelines than Ontario. Studies have found high phosphorous levels in near shore areas of Lake Ontario, Lake Erie and parts of Lake Huron — which the province is marketing as Ontario’s West Coast, a California-style beach playground. ‘The problem is when you get to the Great Lakes we are still locked in this belief we have this great pool of water and we don’t have to impose rigorous standards. And I’m saying we do,’ Miller told a news conference.”

The Canadian Press report notes that, “Great Lakes pollution is getting worse because the Ministry of the Environment’s municipal wastewater discharge rules haven’t kept up with the rising population in southern Ontario. The report also says the ministry has failed to keep an up-to-date inventory of closed landfills that could be polluting nearby groundwater.”

The Windsor Star adds that, “‘We have an ethical responsibility to the lakes to keep them as clean and healthy as possible,’ commissioner Gord Miller told The Star Wednesday. ‘We know how to do this but we take the Great Lakes for granted. If we want our lakes to have the kind of water quality we are used to with safe beaches and safe drinking water, then we have to do a better job.’ (His annual report) identified numerous factors to the Great Lakes’ decline, but focused on improving the standards of waste water facilities. It said the phosphorous situation near shore areas in Lake Erie and Lake Ontario are ‘poor’ and ‘deteriorating.’  Miller said he concentrated on looking at waste water plants because they are capable of doing much better. ‘We have cities like Guelph which have some of the finest sewage treatment in the province…so we know how to do this.'”

The Windsor Star highlights, “Miller said it has been 27 years since the province tightened its standards for sewage treatment plants emptying waste water into the Great Lakes and that we need to look to the United States for ideas. ‘The Americans have been able to accomplish remarkable clean-ups of their lakes and rivers by strengthening their Clean Water Act, and setting clear standards for municipal wastewater,’ Miller said. ‘At the end of the day if we’re not good on our side of the lake and they are on theirs then we’re wasting their money.”

In a campaign blog on the last federal budget in March 2010, we noted that, “While the (Harper) government acknowledges that ‘millions of Canadians depend on the Great Lakes for their drinking water’ and says that ‘cleaning up the Great Lakes is a key objective of our Government’s Action Plan for Clean Water’, the government allocates a mere $8 million a year to Environment Canada to ‘implement its action plan to protect the Great Lakes’. In contrast, at the end of last year, the US Congress authorized $475 million to be spent on cleaning up the Great Lakes. In February, US President Barack Obama proposed another $300 million into this program.”

The Windsor Star also notes, “(Miller says) ‘We have to re-engage in looking after the Great Lakes and you just can’t keep adding millions of people and their sewage without changing those standards.’ …Miller said with a predicted population increase of five million by 2036, it is vital that the province moves to protect the Great Lakes. ‘It’s not going to happen tomorrow and yes it’s going to cost some money, but we have an obligation and it’s something we have to move on right away,’ he said.”

The environmental commissioner’s report can be read at http://www.eco.on.ca/eng/index.php/pubs/eco-publications/2009-10-annual-report.php.

The Toronto Star report is at http://www.thestar.com/news/sciencetech/environment/article/864660, the Canadian Press article can be read at http://ottawa.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20100922/OTT_Sewage_100922/20100922/?hub=OttawaHome, and the Windsor Star article is at http://www.windsorstar.com/news/Alarm+sounded+Great+Lakes+health/3565281/story.html?cid=megadrop_story.

Our campaign blog ‘UPDATE: Multiplicity of threats to the Great Lakes’ can be read at http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=3796.